Ham Radio 101

What is ham radio?

Amateur radio, often called ham radio, is a popular hobby and service that brings people, electronics, and communication together. People use ham radio to talk across town, around the world, or even into space, all without the Internet or the traditional networks that connect us. It’s fun, educational, social, and can be a lifeline during times of emergency.

The best part of ham radio is it’s the ‘hobby of a thousand hobbies’. There are so many subsets to this hobby you could spend your entire life as a licensed ham radio operator and never master all of them. You choose what you want to make it. It could be communicating with satellites orbiting the earth, building antennas to talk with other people around the world on High Frequency (HF) radio waves, or bouncing your radio signal off the moon. All of them are a part of ham radio — and that’s what makes this hobby great. What will your adventure be?

Who are ham radio operators?

Ham radio operators come from all walks of life. They can be five years old or a hundred and five years old and everywhere in between. Ultimately, amateur radio is a Science, Engineering, Technology, and Mathematics (STEM) oriented hobby. Many operators share a love for experimenting on technical projects, but many also get licensed to learn about emergency communications or just simply talk to other people for fun. Ham radio is all about learning, even if you come from a non-technical career or educational background. Hams can be your local waiter or waitress at a local restaurant, white-collar executive, or delivery truck driver. Hams come from all kinds of backgrounds, but the one thing that connects us all is our love for radio.

Ham radio operators communicate using Morse code, computer software, satellites, video transmissions, and microphones. The ways in which hams communicate are varied and present different kinds of challenges and needed skills.

Is ham radio relevant today?

Absolutely. The communications networks that connect us (Internet, cell phones, etc.) every day are fragile. Knowing how to communicate without relying on third-party networks is more important than ever. Whether it’s a large hurricane, earthquake, terrorism, or war — the skills you learn as a ham radio operator can save your life or others around you.

Do you need a license to talk on ham radio?

Anyone can purchase a ham radio, even without a license. You’re also able to monitor ham radio frequencies using a scanner, shortwave radio, or ham radio without the need for a license. However, you must be a licensed amateur radio operator to transmit on any ham radio no matter the frequency. The Federal Communication Commission oversees amateur radio licensing. There are many study materials online to help you study and pass your Technician exam.

Do you need to know Morse code to become a ham?

No, the FCC dropped the Morse code requirement in 2006. You’re no longer required to know Morse code, but Morse code is still an active mode on amateur radio bands.

Is the ham radio exam hard?

This is tough to answer as what may be hard for one person may not be for another. Most people find that with 2-4 weeks of consistent studying they’re able to pass the Technician Class exam, the entry-level amateur radio license in the United States.

What is a repeater?

Ham radio repeaters are systems located in high areas like a radio tower, or atop a tall building, that allow two stations to communicate across a greater distance. There are many repeaters across the state of Minnesota. View the list of Minnesota repeaters.